Senior & Shopmaker is pleased to present Spheres of Influence: Al Held, Michael Craig-Martin, Judy Pfaff, and Stanley Whitney, a group exhibition of drawings by preeminent abstract painter and former Yale professor, Al Held (1928-2005), along with three illustrious former students from the Yale School of Art graduate program in the 1960s and 70s. Michael Craig-Martin (MFA 1966); Judy Pfaff (MFA 1973); and Stanley Whitney (MFA 1972) have each acknowledged the impact Held had on the development of their critical thinking and practice during their student years and beyond. This exhibition brings together works on paper by each artist, suggesting overlapping spheres of influence rather than linear attributions. Within the works on view, which date from 1963 to 2018, common themes emerge: the depiction of volumetric space, underlying or overt geometry, and the use of color as a structural element.
Yale University’s art department in the early 1960s emphasized a pluralist approach, featuring teachers with wide-ranging practices who encouraged students to master different techniques, media, and styles. Following the transformational teaching methodologies Josef Albers established during his tenure as chairman of the department (1950-58), Jack Tworkov, Albers’ successor from 1963-69, continued to innovate by inviting artists active in the New York art scene to teach at the school. At Tworkov’s invitation, Al Held, like Albers a hard-edged abstract painter, joined the graduate faculty in 1963 as Visiting Critic, and assumed the title of Associate Professor in 1966, and Adjunct Professor of Art in 1970. Held was a role model, representing to his students the successful professional engagement possible for a working artist. He was to continue teaching at Yale until 1980, later revealing in an interview teaching’s impact on his own work: “… every year there are two or three or four kids who you begin to believe in, you develop a relationship with and because of that kind of credibility and believability from you to them they force you to see things that you wouldn't have looked at very seriously by yourself.” The dialogue between teacher and student was a dynamic and multi-directional one.
Michael Craig-Martin (b. 1941 Dublin, Ireland) grew up in the United States, and received both his B.A. (1963), as well as his M.F.A. (1966) from Yale. In the mid-1960s, he returned to Europe, becoming one of the key figures in the first generation of British conceptual artists. Through exacting draftsmanship, Craig-Martin uses composition to explore spatial relationships between disparate objects from contemporary life. “I'm essentially a constructor, a putter-togetherer of things. I see my paintings as being informed by my years of making sculpture. I think of my paintings as flat sculptures.”
Judy Pfaff (b. 1946, London. England) immigrated to the United States when she was thirteen; she received her BFA at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, and her MFA from Yale in 1973. A pioneer of installation art in the 1970s, Pfaff continues to synthesize sculpture and painting into dynamic, architectural environments in which the perception of space fluctuates between the two- and three-dimensional. The illusion of space is a binding characteristic between Pfaff's early and current work, as is her use of bright and receding color as a spatial tool. Included in the exhibition is a selection of multicolored tape drawings on graph paper titled Drawings for Prototypes, which relate to Pfaff’s spare stick figure sculptures of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Stanley Whitney (b. 1946, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) holds a BFA from Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri and received his MFA from Yale University in 1972. Following time spent in Italy and then later in Egypt in the mid-1990s, Whitney developed an architectural approach to abstraction that has become his signature style. In his watercolors, rectangles of vivid, solid colors are arranged in deliberately irregular grids. In contrast, in Whitney’s graphite drawings space is compressed with energetic and improvisational line and mark-making.
Al Held (b. 1928, Brooklyn, NY- d. 2005, Todi, Italy) is considered a prominent figure among second-generation Abstract Expressionists, but his persistent exploration of illusionistic potential within abstraction defied many of the labels of post–Abstract Expressionist movements. In the early 1960s, Held’s paintings underwent an evolution away from expressionism towards the sharpened contours, geometric forms, and gradually enlarged scale associated with Hard Edge painting. Held, however, was steadfast in his rejection of critic Clement Greenberg’s modernist doctrine and its insistence on pure flatness. In the late 1960s, tiring of reductivist aesthetics, he strove to incorporate space and volume into his canvases. His paintings of 1967–68 were exclusively black and white; subsequently, he began to explore three-dimensionality by structuring his compositions using vanishing points, culminating in the illusionistic geometric compositions and vibrant color of the late 1970s and beyond. His works on paper represent, on a more intimate scale, Held’s intent towards ordered abstraction and illusionism.
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